No two parenting styles are the same. People come together with different histories, values, wishes and dreams which impacts how each of us parents our children. When it comes to kids with difficulties, emotions and pride complicate the picture. Parenting a child with difficulties often results in parents having arguments about everything; nurture more or less, discipline more or less, being too hard or soft, schooling, extra-murals, therapies, finances. The stereotypes of parenting often also come through with a mom being too soft and a dad being too hard and then the game of overcompensating to right the wrongs of the other or even right the wrongs of ones own guilt is prevalent.
As parents we have core values or goals as to what we believe is important for our children, for example, a well-mannered child, an all rounder, an academic child, a sporty child, etc. We also have a philosophy or vision around how we want to parent – a fun parent, a strict parent, a parent who provides financially, or emotionally etc. In practice, these ideals change. I never thought I would be the type of parent who could raise her voice, get so angry or take things so to heart. I never realised how important having well behaved children would be to me. All of these things are just my own stuff I put into the parenting space. There is the other half of the picture – my husband and all his needs and wants and desires for our children, his history and parenting ideals. In my family there is also a very involved granny with her own set of values, histories, parenting experiences and visions as to the granny she would be and aspirations for her grandchildren. It all makes for a complicated dynamic in the home and then there are all the external forces of in-laws, experienced siblings who have raised great families or have made mistakes they do not want us to repeat.
Before we address the nuances around handling some of these dynamics, what do the experts say about parenting styles?
There are four main styles of parenting:
1. Authoritarian – Children are expected to follow the strict rules laid down by the parents. Failure to do so results in punishment. Authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules, because “I said so” or “because I am the parent” is a mantra used in the home. The result; children of authoritarian parents are usually obedient and proficient, but this compliance is usually driven out of fear of punishment and withholding affection. There are however many more shortfalls and authoritarian parenting can have complex outcomes.
2. Permissive parenting – sometimes referred to as indulgent parents. They place very few demands on their children. These parents rarely discipline their children. They are typically non-traditional, lenient and avoid confrontation. Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children, often taking on the status of a friend more than that of a parent. Unfortunately, these children often rank low in happiness and self-regulation. They are more likely to experience problems with authority and tend to perform poorly in school.
3. Un-involved parenting – characterized by few demands, low responsiveness and little communication. These parents fulfill the child’s basic needs, but are generally detached from their child’s life. In extreme cases, these parents may even reject or neglect the needs of their children. As a result, these children rank lowest across all life skill areas. These children tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem and are less competent than their peers.
4. Authoritative parenting – authoritative parents also establish rules and guidelines that their children are expected to follow. However, this parenting style is democratic. Authoritative parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions. When children fail to meet the expectations, these parents are more nurturing and forgiving rather than punishing. They strive to have children who are self-regulated and co-operative. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. This is the parenting style to strive for, as it results in children who are happy, capable and successful.
It would seem that authoritative parenting is the style we should all strive for. If only it was that easy. In practice things do not work like this. Culture, personality, family size, parental background, socioeconomic status, educational level, religion, histories, values and the child’s temperament and stress all affect our ability to parent in the “ideal” way. Yes striving to be an authoritative parent is good practice, yet there are always the anomalies; parents with authoritative styles can have children who are defiant or who engage in delinquent behaviour, while parents with permissive styles can have children who are self-confident and academically successful.
The truth is there is no one perfect parenting style – that is what makes parenting so difficult. Authoritative style is generally linked to positive behaviours such as strong self-esteem and self-competence. However factors including culture, children’s perceptions of parental treatment, and social influences also play an important role in children’s behaviours. For example in my own home, we try to predominantly use an authoritative style, yet I have one child who always perceives the environment as unfair to him and he sees us entertaining questions and explaining our reasoning as a negotiating platform, which is exhausting and often results in us having to be more authoritarian with him than authoritative.
Sometimes a mixed style in a home is perhaps more successful. One style will not suit all children and one style will not suit all homes at a specific time. For example if a parent is ill, an un-involved parenting style is acceptable for a period of time and sometimes it is nice to be permissive and indulgent. So what happens when everyone has different parenting styles, can this not also be used to create a unique family blend? For example, the mother may be authoritative style while the father is permissive. A cohesive approach to parenting can still be created if the parents learn to cooperate and combine the unique elements of their parenting styles. In fact the one thing research is clear on is; if handled correctly, two parents with different parenting styles, that are able to merge those styles with some give and take, gives the child an opportunity to see how differences can become complimentary and productive.
So how do we do this? For those who have interested third party parents, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, caregivers etc, many of the same tips below can and should be applied to your conversations around parenting.
10 Points to develop a unique parenting blend in your home:
1. I think the most important thing to remember is both of you actually have your child’s best interests at heart, and you both want to parent “right” but how this looks to both of you may be different. Always try to remember each others’ best intentions in the heat of the moment, to help cool things down.
2. Communication is key. Couples normally make sure they are on the same page with religion and politics and probably have a conversation about whether they want children, but they don’t talk about the kind of parents they want to be until its crunch time. Do you really know what type of a parent you want to be? Ask your self these questions; are you parenting purely rote either as you were parented, with the attitude I turned out alright or the perhaps the total opposite of how you were parented? Or do you have a blueprint that you have questioned and adapted some of the parenting tactics that did not work for you and keeping the ones that did? Or are you a researcher, reader, planner and parent according to your values. Do you know the answers to these questions about your partners parenting style, do you know their wants as a parent, do you know what is important to them, and why? Having this discussion is a worthwhile one.
3. You need to decide what is important to you as a couple for your children and how you think you can achieve this? Compromise may be part of this picture. Mom may have to be more authoritarian and dad may have to be more permissive. Also discuss each of your non-negotiables. For example mom may insist on doing co-sleeping (don’t know what co-sleeping is. Another example?) And as much as dad may hate this, support your partner in her decision but you also get to have a non-negotiable, that also needs to be adequately supported.
4. For those who are willing you can use this to refine your values and make a parenting strategy you both agree to.
5. Take to heart the things about your parenting style that really irks your partner and see if you can scale back on this element. If not, why? What is the root cause of you being so adamant about driving a specific point? We all have elements of our parenting style that are unconscious processes often wrapped up in our own history or marital unhappiness. Often the awareness of the behaviour and the reason driving it makes it easier to change.
6. Form a united front, even if your partners authoritarianism, or permissiveness, makes your skin crawl. Keep the conversation calmly to yourselves. Allowing the kids to sense your disquiet only compounds the problem.
7. Sometimes you need to agree to disagree. Unless your partners parenting practices cause bodily or emotional harm, or are threatening your child’s development, battling over differing approaches is not worth the strain it puts on the marriage. Learn to let it go.
8. On the same thought process, know when to take a step back. If your partner has chosen to take charge of a situation and you disagree with how they are handling it, unless once again there is a threat, it is not necessarily your place to intervene. Let them sort it out. Post the event once everyone has calmed down, you can have a discussion about this if it will be conducive to changing the experience going forwards.
9. If you feel things are getting carried away and know your partner may say or do something they may regret, then step in and suggest nicely that you take over. Do not attack your partners handling of the situation in front of your child. Remember that united front. If your partner does intervene, take the break.
10. Never criticise each others parenting style, this will only result in a power struggle as to who is right or wrong, who is the better parent? . Engage in positive communication about elements of each others’ parenting style you do not like and why.
When to worry:
Parenting differences can drive a wedge between partners. Agreeing to disagree, needs to be done with respect, but beware if disagreements become chronic and hostile. If there’s eye rolling, contempt or dismissiveness, then you’re less likely to want to compromise. Or if you are unable to resolve your differences or at least enough of them that you can begin to move forward as you work through the others, then perhaps you need to seek third party help.
Remember while issues are being worked through, Keep that united front to the kids and work out differences behind closed doors.
Back to those with third party parents, listen to their views and remember they do have your child’s best interests at heart however you are the parent and you do have the final say, which you are always entitled to express respectfully.
The key lessons that come through consistently are communication, a united front, compromise and respect.